Category Archives: Parent’s Meeting

But I Want to Do Your Homework


It hurts to watch your child struggle, whether it is with a math problem, a poorly written story, or even worse, a social issue or that first crush.

So we offer a little assistance; perhaps even a tutor.  Before long, the parental ego kicks in.

Empathy is a skill we all need to model as parents; no child should feel alone or without emotional support.  So we need to acknowledge struggles and frustrations.

But in a world where the best tutors and teachers are only a click away, and with our Eagles surrounded by a caring culture of peer collaboration, direct help is no longer a necessity; perhaps even harmful for heroes in the long run.

So next time you are tempted to intervene, pull up Judith Newman’s New York Times piece But I Want to Do Your Homework.  If nothing else, you’ll have a good laugh.

Principles for Parenting Heroes

It is not easy to be an Acton Academy parent.


Yes, you love the fact that your Eagle loves to go to school.

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Yes, it’s nice to know that working hard and having fun are not mutually exclusive.

But it still can be difficult to believe that the most powerful way we can encourage deep learning is to relinquish control.

So here are seven principles  recently sent to incoming middle school parents, to help ease the transition to a Learner Driven Community:

A Primer for

Acton Academy Middle School Parents

 Acton Academy is a self governing Learner Driven Community where Eagles set individual goals, manage their own time and govern themselves.

Given that it can be frustrating for parents when Guides do not intervene to address concerns, but instead put this responsibility back on the Eagles, we thought a few principles might be worth restating:

Parents have the ultimate responsibility for each Eagle.

We believe our parents are the ultimate authority in their Eagle’s life.  You pay the bills so you get to make the decisions.  This also mean upholding Acton’s written promises to you is our highest responsibility and trumps even our promises to Eagles.  Because of this, we respect your responsibility to set expectations for how much work your Eagle will do and how long it will take him or her to graduate to LaunchPad (high school.)

Eagles run our studios.

We trust your Eagle and give great latitude to our young heroes to practice self governance.

Allowing your Eagle to fail early, cheaply and often can be painful for parents.

It may be painful to see your Eagle struggling, whether it’s a tightly wound Eagle who needs to learn to relax or a slumping Eagle struggling to find the right motivation.  Painful though it may be for all, we believe the lessons learned in our studio prepare our Eagles for glorious adventures in an even less forgiving real world.

Quality is judged by Eagles.

There are no grades at Acton Academy. We use real world standards instead.

All work approved by Eagles to count for a badge will either:

  • Be “the best work I can do” if it is something being done for the first time; or
  • Show improvement from previous work in a skills or area; or
  • Be green-lighted (approved) by fellow Eagles as being worthy to represent Acton Academy quality work to parents or the public; or
  • Be judged as high quality by outsiders in a public exhibition.

Interpersonal issues are addressed without adult intervention (unless it is a matter of safety.)

While Guides will listen to a parent’s concerns about interpersonal conflicts, we always will put the responsibility back on the Eagle to work out any problems, just like in the real world.

Eagles do receive frank anonymous feedback from their peers through periodic 360 surveys to help build stronger relationships and Guides will provide safe dispute resolution processes.

High community standards may result in an Eagle being sent home for a day.  This is a serious message from the Learning Community. Under the current accountability system, an Eagle being sent home three times within a year will not be invited back.  Your Eagle will understand these rules and has a responsibility to keep you abreast of any serious issues that may lead to being asked to stay home.

Eagles are busy so please limit outside communications.

Under the current studio rules set by Eagles, cell phone use is not allowed inside the studio, so email is the best way to communicate.  If you need to text or talk, please set a specific time so your Eagle can pick up his or her phone and step outside.  If you have an emergency, please email or text a Guide or Laura.

If you have a question about how Acton is working, ask your Eagle.

We believe in the power of customer feedback.  If you want to know how school is going, ask your Eagle or read the blog or the weekly surveys.  Out of respect for both you and your Eagle, Guides are not allowed to offer detailed feedback.

Eagles know what needs to be done.  Each has a list of badges needed to move to Launchpad and the requirements for each badge.  While we always are improving this system, your Eagle should know when he or she can expect to leave Middle School, given his or her current pace.

From time to time we will schedule a meeting in which your Eagle can present his or her Personal Learning Plan (electronic portfolios) and a physical portfolio of work.  You also may want to review your Eagle’s progress on his or her Khan math plan or review Points Tracker sheets at the end of every week or session.  As part of the Honor Code, Eagles are required to be truthful and transparent about their progress.

No, it’s not easy some days being an Acton Academy parent.  But it is an exciting adventure.



An Intellectual Appetite that Leads to Purposeful Action


David Brooks offers advice on learning in today’s New York Times:

1.  “Say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

At Acton Academy, we call this “being in flow.”

2. “Look at the way children learn in groups. They make discoveries alone, but bring their treasures to the group. Then the group crowds around and hashes it out. In conversation, conflict, confusion and uncertainty can be metabolized and digested through somebody else. If the group sets a specific problem for itself, and then sets a tight deadline to come up with answers, the free digression of conversation will provide occasions in which people are surprised by their own minds.”

This is the magic of  a Learner Driven Community, built and owned by Eagles.

3.  “The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.”

This is the challenge and the reward of the Hero’s Journey.

Our mission is to equip and inspire Eagles to whet an intellectual appetite, one that drives them to master the skills, habits and questions required to change the world.


Advice for Parenting Heroes

j zink

Decades ago psychologist J. Zink  published a series of parenting books so helpful for raising young heroes that out-of-print copies soon commanded $100 per copy.

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Now, thanks to the prodding of Acton Academy parents (and others)  J. Zink has come out of retirement to update one of his classics and offer it as an E-book titled Upbringing.

Simple, common sense, easy to follow.  Advice many of us hope we practice every day.  Nevertheless, an invaluable refresher course offered by a kind and gentle man who has helped tens of thousands of young heroes and their parents.


Rats, it’s a snow day!

Traditional schools have a difficult time with threatening weather.  As complex bureaucracies with large workforces and administrators who take responsibility for the  lives of others, traditional schools must make decisions about tomorrow’s snow and ice as as early as possible.

It’s a no-win situation. If school is cancelled and the weather turns warmer, students are thrilled to but some parents are angry.  Many teachers are delighted to be away from the daily grind.   All grumble when a make-up session is scheduled during the next holiday.

If school isn’t cancelled, and even one teacher, employee or family is involved in a wreck, school officials are criticized for not being more cautious.    The skills of the least experienced driver or the trek of the most distant family set a cautious bar for everyone.

To make matters worse, there’s great pressure to keep traditional schools open because every lesson in a factory-like curriculum must be delivered in sequence to prepared for the next standardized test.

These conflicting pressures are why you see traditional schools closed at the slightest hint of frost one week, and then kept open in dangerous conditions the next, as educrats are whipsawed by public opinion.

We’re blessed at Acton Academy that we don’t have these problems.  When bad weather threatens, we trust our families to make the decision that’s right for them.  Likewise, parents know we’re more likely to be open when other schools are shuttered, because Guides and students love to be at Acton Academy.

Families who need certainty can just assume the worst and plan to stay home.  With self paced, web enabled lessons and students who are far ahead in their learning,  Eagles easily can learn a lot at home (or even take a month off to travel to an exciting place.)

Families who have the flexibility can wait and judge the weather themselves, confident than one of our Guides will be at school, unless conditions are too treacherous for all.

It makes a big difference when parents know that Eagles and Guides want to be at school, because it’s more fun than staying home.  And that we can each trust each other to make the right decisions, instead of relying on a school bureaucrat to make our decisions for us.





What’s a parent to do? Part III

How can a parent learn more about his or her Eagle?

Acton’s Head of School Laura Sandefer reminds us it’s really all about asking the right questions:

Car Talk – Questions that Work

The drive home and the chat around the dinner table are precious moments in life. What can seem like routine daily life can be transformed into “aha” moments of learning about each other. It’s all in how we ask the questions. Below are just a few questions that help move us parents off the, “How was your day?” rock and into a more stream-of-consciousness flow of learning about each other:

  • On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being “worst day ever” and 10 being “most awesome day!”) how would you rate today at school?  What would have made it better? What would you have changed if you could?
  • When did you have the most energy today? During a group time or during individual work time?
  •  What was your high today? What was your low?
  •  Are you more comfortable asking another Eagle for help or a Guide for help when you need it?
  •  Did you serve as a Guide to someone else today?
  • What core skills work did you do today? Do you feel you did your best work?
  • Play the “Two truths and a Lie” game: Each person shares three things that they did today. Two statements are true and one is a lie. The others have to guess which is a lie.

Each question can be followed up with: “Tell me more!” or “Why do you think that?” Have fun and feel free to share questions that are your favorites for getting your Eagles to talk about their day.

What’s a parent to do? Part II

Your Eagle won’t tell you much about school.

But you want to make sure he’s keeping up.  You’ve learned to log into Khan Academy, No Red Ink, Newsela and other internet based programs, but what else can you do?

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Here’s an idea: Review your Eagle’s SMART goals every week.

SMART goals – Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Results oriented and Time-bound goals are a deeply imbedded part of our learning community.  Eagles set these goals each Monday, along with their Running Partner, and tally up the points earned at the end of the week.

Use the tracker to ask deeper, more specific questions – about books read; Khan skills mastered and progress on Quests.  The number of points scored or goals achieved in any one week aren’t important – but setting and reaching goals is an important lifelong habit for heroes who want to change the world.

Plus, you can add even more by sifting through several weeks worth of SMART goals, and helping your Eagle spot longer term areas of interest and skills.

In many ways, SMART goals over a long period of time deliver two of the most gifts we can give as parents: solid process skills and perspective.

What’s a parent to do? Part I

It’s often hard to be an Eagle Parent.  Your child won’t tell you much about school. You hate to press.  And yet, you want to know whether or not your Eagle is making progress.

What to do?  Here’s one idea: Use the Contract of Promises (shown below) to ask your Eagle if her Running Partner and classmates would agree that she is living up to her promises.

Press for specific, positive examples and explore ways to improve.  Ask your Eagle to “force rank” which three promises she is doing her “best work” which three she needs to “try something different.”

     Acton Middle School

Contract of Promises

 As an Acton Eagle, I promise to:

  •  Relentlessly pursue my “next adventure,” so I can find my own special purpose for being on this earth.
  • Always do my best work.
  • I promise to hold my classmates accountable and help them on the path to success.
  • Learn from my failures and never give up.
  • Respect others, their choices, differences, and beliefs.
  • Never accept snarkiness, poor sportsmanship, or bullying of any kind.
  • Never give up on myself or my fellow travelers.
  • I further promise to learn something new every day as I gather the tools I will need for later in life.
  • To be positive.  To be curious.  To keep an open mind. To have fun and find joy in daily activities.
  • To be honest and speak the truth, even when it is difficult.
  • To have the courage to be different.
  • To be respectful and treat others how I want to be treated.
  • And to follow through on my promises. EVERY TIME.

I hereby solemnly pledge to uphold these promises.

Signed, this 13th day of September, 2013.

At Acton, the choice of work and pace often are left up to the individual Eagle.  But keeping one’s promises is a non-negotiable part of the learning community.

The Messiness of Trial and Error Learning, Self Government, and Spontaneous Order

The Acton Academy curriculum would be so much simpler if the adults would just take charge of the teaching: lessons could be planned and delivered; classrooms would be free from disruptions and students could move forward in a lockstep curriculum.

The Acton Academy studio would be much neater if adults were in control: food could be prohibited; janitors could be hired and free time would be quieter and less raucous.

Parents would be much easier to manage in a more well ordered school too, especially if we didn’t consider having families of lifelong learners so important or would stop conducting those pesky weekly surveys of customer satisfaction.

Trial and error learning, self government and spontaneous order are just so messy.  Especially when we are trying to craft a model for 21st century learning.

Those of us who guide in the school make mistakes. Early on, we made it clear that standardized testing wasn’t important – building a curriculum and school around standardized testing stifled curiosity and ingenuity; being “smart” was better than the alternative, but not nearly as important as having character and perseverance.

Yet we wanted to make sure students weren’t too far behind in the basics, so we tested how Eagles were doing in reading, writing and math.  The results were astounding, so suddenly we began touting the rapid advances in learning that we could easily measure, forgetting the far more important “messy” lessons that were being earned and learned.

At one point, a third or so of our older elementary students had maxed out the SAT10 test, so it was inevitable that the rapid advancement in grade levels would slow, as many Eagles approached the limits of the tests, some focused more on one subject than another and others went through natural changes in development and cognitive growth.

Yet now we had to explain to a few anxious parents that even the brightest and most motivated Eagles can’t advance multiple grade levels every year, not if you want the far more important and messy lessons of self government, learning how to learn and apprenticeships to take hold.

Yes, real learning is messy.  So are genuine learning communities.  So are parents and lifelong learners like us trying to find our way.

Yet we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why do we care so much about the education of children?

Why do adults care so much about the education of children?

  • Do we want to build a better society?
  • Or are we more interested in showcasing our children or disciples, to make ourselves look better?
  • Or perhaps we seek to relive our own childhoods, to right old wrongs.

None of these are legitimate reasons.  Children are not raw material for social architects or props for a “parent of the year” contest or tools for middle aged psychodramas. Children are precious beings, each a genius, with an individual hero’s journey.

It is surprisingly easy to forget this, but children can sense when the motives of a teacher, coach or parent shift, and they move from being curious and joyful in learning to suspicious and guarded.

Better to leave them to explore on their own than to try and mold them for the wrong reasons.

Changing the world through a speech

“I have a dream…”

“Four score and seven years ago…”

“Ask not what you your country can do for you…”

There’s only one reason to give a speech: You want to change the world.

No photos from your latest family vacation; no boring PowerPoint slides to control your audience’s attention; no droning lectures to put people to sleep.  Simply a moving speech that moves people to action.

Six weeks from now, each Eagle will deliver a world changing speech, as a historical figure, at a pivotal point in time, on a subject he or she feels passionate about.  It will be an original speech, drafted, revised and crafted over a six week period.

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Today several Eagles were called forward to stand “in the box” for ten minutes to speak on something they care passionately about.  The lesson: giving a great speech takes passion AND serious preparation.  You cannot just “wing it.”

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Next came two hours of Improv training and practice.  Because giving a world changing speech means letting go of your fears and saying “yes” to being comfortable being yourself on stage.

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At the end of the day, our Eagles went to the Elementary School to present a gift of two copies of last session’s Mystery Anthology, and give each author a chance to pitch his or her story by reading a few lines.

How do you learn to give a world changing speech?  You start by having the courage to get into the arena.

From Eagles to Parents

Three times each year with have an Acton Parent’s Meeting.  These Parent’s Meetings are to talk about our own hero’s journeys as adults, not to discuss school matters.

This week’s Parent’s Meeting was focused on sarcasm and passive-aggressive behavior, and how examining our own lives can add depth and value to the entire family, as well as to help us change the world.

Since we’ve been examining similar questions in the Middle School, I asked our Eagles what advice they’d give to parents on the use of sarcasm in the home:

  • Remember that we’re all on the same team
  • Stop for a moment and think about the other person before you respond…
  • If you are in a bad mood, it’s better to hold your tongue
  • Speak honestly and clearly, but not harshly
  • When you respond sarcastically, ask yourself: “Where did that come from?”
  • Never forget that you have a deep influence on others

Amazing what we learn from our Eagles every day, just by trusting them enough to ask.